How Incarceration Affects a Person’s Mental Health

Effects of IncarcerationEnding up behind bars can seem like a faraway notion for most people. It is not, however, as unusual as one would think: jail time is a reality many people face every day. In fact, with 716 people out of every 100,000 ending up behind bars, the United States of America has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Upon incarceration, the first priority of a person’s family and legal defense is getting the individual out of prison. Those in North Carolina can take advantage of the bail bond system, which helps families gain access to resources needed for immediate release.

The speedy release of the incarcerated loved one is essential as being in jail is one of the most stressful events in a person’s life.

Deterioration of Social Skills and Isolation

Prison can be a very scary place for individuals. Behind bars, a person — whether or not they are guilty — is surrounded by hardened criminals and under the mercy of a rough social system. To keep safe, inmates can develop self-isolation behaviors. This lack of friends or a support system makes a prisoner more likely to develop psychological disorders.

Prisoner's Mental HealthParanoia and Anxiety

The internal social structure of prison is very unforgiving and the consequences of overstepping them can be very steep. Inmates have to face situations that threaten their safety every day, in fact. In an environment that breeds reclusive tendencies, inmates are also more likely to display signs of anxiety.

Diminished Self-Worth

Once in prison, individuals give up a lot of things usually taken for granted, such as the use of private showers and toilets. They are also forced to live in small, cramped spaces with other inmates and have overly controlled access to basic needs like food.

Being forced to give up their autonomy can make prisoners feel powerless. Without their basic freedoms and the inability to make their own decisions, they can easily lose their sense of self-worth. Routines, especially as harsh as those followed in prison, can affect how a person sees him or herself.

Post-Incarceration Syndrome (PICS)

Unfortunately, the psychological impact of incarceration does not stop when an inmate gets his freedoms back. PICS is a very complex condition that clusters together several problems that arise in prisoners after their last day in prison. These include:

  1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – the incidence of abuse in prison can trigger PTSD. In addition, traumas that were already present before incarceration can be aggravated while locked up. The condition will continue to haunt them long after they are released.
  2. Institutionalized Personality Traits – this is the effect of routine prison life on an ex-inmate. It includes helplessness when confronted by the authorities as well as antisocial tendencies for self-protection.
  3. Substance Abuse Disorders – many prisons have illicit drug trade problems. Although there are efforts to curb the practice, the fact that it is a way for prisoners to cope with prison life makes it hard to abolish. More often than not, prisoners become dependent on these drugs.
  4. Antisocial Personality Traits – the self-isolation behaviors prisoners learn in prison will not easily be forgotten upon release. They are likely to continue avoiding social interactions long after they’ve served their time, in fact.
  5. Social Sensory Deprivation – this problem specifically comes from prolonged solitary confinement. Prisoners who suffer from the condition have a greatly diminished ability to react in social situations.

Life in prison is, without a doubt, taxing for both the mind and body. These psychological effects, however, can continue to afflict inmates long after their period of incarceration. Awareness and the proper help from professionals can help ex-inmates as well as their families cope better.